The Whole Picture — A story may have many sides
Hi Rabbi. I heard that Judaism teaches to judge others favorably, which to me sounds similar to not really judging them at all. What does this principle mean and would you give me an example? Thanks!
Yes, we are taught to “judge everyone favorably” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6). Judging favorably means finding excuses for questionable behavior, excuses which make sense to us and leave us with a positive feeling towards the person in question. When we find ourselves suspecting others, we must ask ourselves: Are there any redeeming factors? Did I miss something? Did I jump to the wrong conclusion? For instance, take the following case:
It was late one evening when the phone rang. It was my good friend Sam. “I’m making a wedding. Do you know a good photographer?” Sam asked me. I gave him the name of an excellent and reasonably priced photographer.
“I’ve heard of him,” said my friend, “but I also heard he’s unreliable.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“I’m told that he was recently hired for a bar mitzvah and he arrived after it was half over. He missed half the affair. There’s no way I’d hire a person who is so irresponsible.”
“Are you sure it’s true?” I asked him.
“I’m positive,” he said. “David was the head of the band that night, and he told it to me himself. I met someone else who attended that same affair and he verified the facts. It’s 100% true.”
“Maybe due to unforeseen circumstances he was delayed” I said, trying my best to judge favorably. “What makes you so sure it was a case of negligence or pure laziness?”
“Perhaps you’re right,” replied Sam. “But I just can’t risk it. Besides, there is no reason in the world for coming late. He should have started out early enough so that even if his car broke down he could have taken a car service and made it on time. There is absolutely no good excuse for a photographer to walk in after half the affair is over!”
He had a strong point. When I hung up the phone I found myself in a real dilemma. Could I really recommend someone who is unreliable? Was it truly negligence on his part? I decided to check out the story on my own. I called the musician and he verified the whole story.
The very next day, I bumped into my good friend, the photographer. I brought up the subject of the bar mitzvah.
“Is it true that you arrived halfway through the bar mitzvah?” I asked.
“Yes, it certainly is,” he said. “But why are you asking?”
“I just recommended you for a job, and the person refused to take you. He claimed you were unreliable because you didn’t come on time to a bar mitzvah job.”
He looked at me in disbelief, and then began telling me his story.
“The job was not mine at all,” he began. “The photographer who had been hired for the job failed to show up. I received an emergency call in the middle of the affair to come down immediately. Despite being very busy at that moment, I dropped everything I was doing and raced down to the hall as quickly as possible.”
With a hurt look on his face he added, “I only did it as a personal favor to them.”